Needtobreathe recently kicked off the second leg of their “Tour de Compadres” at San Francisco’s Masonic, bringing with them two members of Colony House, Switchfoot and Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors. The performances were impressive across the board. The atmosphere, however, was overwhelmingly wholesome and is clearly best appreciated by the bands’ unapologetic target audience: Christian families.
Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors kicked off the show, and the familial vibes, with “American Beauty.” With the lights slightly dimmed, I could clearly see all the young children surrounding me — several of them were planted on the floor with an iPad and others stood in between their parents, swaying along in the front row. Audience members ran the age gamut, but kids and grandmas alike seemed relaxed by Holcomb’s sweet and rich tone. He pronounced each word clearly and deliberately, like he knew what he was saying and wanted you to pay attention.
Though the song was romantic, it could easily describe any close relationship. In fact, the song’s claim to fame is its inclusion in a father-daughter Dick’s Sporting Goods commercial.
Another standout from Holcomb’s performance was “What Would I Do Without You.” You could hear the smile in Holcomb’s lyrics about a decades-spanning connection (“A decade goes by without a warning / And there’s still kindness in your eyes). He further maintained the family feel by introducing the song as one of the many written for his wife.
Holcomb’s music is the kind you would play while rocking a baby to sleep — reassuring, soothing and undeniably pleasant.
Soft rock is a low-key version of hard rock, with a gentler sound and a greater focus on lyrics and melody. The night’s two main bands, Switchfoot and Needtobreathe, easily fit into the genre. The bands had clear parallels: They both performed with confidence and experience (each with 15+ years) and…they both might make you uncomfortable if you’re not religious.
Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman made a clear effort to connect with the crowd from the start, crawling over the divide to tap the hands of adoring audience members. Fittingly, the wave-loving singer with a “Saltwater Heart” and sweat-matted blond hair crowd-surfed as the audience jumped around for the first time. You get the idea that he honestly wanted the audience to enjoy themselves.
Audience members quickly threw their palms into the air when prompted, but otherwise hands remained down, taking a quick picture or resting by their sides — this group: the exact opposite of a mosh pit.
Switchfoot has the makings of a popular rock band: iconic riffs, prominent percussion and a charismatic frontman with a well-trained voice worthy of highlighting. But they’re missing the screaming fans and the groupies, aiming to create the most positive, most inspiring music, not the most popular. It’s a trade-off they made a long time ago, and one that fits their family-friendly rocker image to a tee.
Before the song “Where I Belong,” just in case there was any ambiguity, Foreman noted that the song was about “the day I see my maker face-to-face.” The lyrics of Switchfoot, and later Needtobreathe, were often marked by such obvious religious undertones. That’s not to say you can’t appreciate their music if you’re not pious, but you’d enjoy it a lot more if you did.
Needtobreathe’s performance was louder than the first two bands’, but it was still predictably peaceful, partially because of the switch to nightlight-type lighting, which never quite took away a sense of order.
Evan Peters lookalike Bo Rinehart lit up the left corner of the stage with his crazy dancing, especially in “Feet, Don’t Fail Me Now.” His ripped white shirt matched his ripped jeans, and both glowed in the purple light as he charismatically thrashed around. His frequent solos were refreshingly assertive, a glimmer of intensity in a sea of calm.
The band’s best received song of the night was “Difference Maker.”
Audience members soulfully sang along with their eyes closed, making me think, once again, that I wasn’t Christian enough for any of this. The entire crowd, young and old, seemed to sing along: “I am the only one that speaks to him/And I am the friendliest of friends of God.”
The standout performance of Needtobreathe’s set was “Wanted Man.” The song featured a vocal solo from Bo, who eventually stole the attention away from his talented brother in what were unequivocally my favorite vocals of the night.
While Bear’s voice was rich and powerful, Bo’s was surprisingly sweet and soft. When Bo began singing halfway through the song, it was reminiscent of the auditions in “High School Musical,” in which the reigning champions perform an upbeat, energetic version of a song and then the underdog main characters sing a stripped-down, acoustic version: Both versions were great, but the softer one was at once unexpected and fitting.
After a double encore with the whole family (all three bands plus adopted members of Colony House) back together and white confetti falling endlessly from the ceiling, parents grabbed the tiny hands of their tiny Needtobreathe fans and ushered them out of the Masonic and into their minivans.
The vibe you get from the tour is the same one you’d see if you scrolled through the comments on Switchfoot’s or Needtobreathe’s Youtube videos: optimistic, honest, eternally virtuous. People share stories about how the songs changed their lives, about how spiritually connected they feel when listening. But some people don’t.
Contact Alina Abidi at alinafabidi ‘at’ gmail.com.